05 September 2011

Offer clemency to Gandhi’s killers!

Posters calling for Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan
to be hanged

The execution of three persons convicted over the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi  has been stayed for eight weeks by the Madras High Court. Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, currently at the Vellore Jail, were to be hanged on September 9, 2011. The bench, offering interim relief, had observed a 11 year delay in the delay of mercy petitions filed by the convicts to the President.

In the meantime, arch Tamil chauvinist and long-time choir-boy of Tamil terrorism, MDMK leader Vaiko had thundered that if the three were executed, then Tamil Nadu would secede from the Indian union: ‘If Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case are executed as per the court order, it will jeopardise Indian unity. When the 100th anniversary of the Independence Day will be celebrated on 2047, Tamil Nadu would not be a part of India.’  

I doubt that Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi would take Vaiko’s threats seriously. Indeed, if Vaiko was a serious Tamil nationalist, then there are probably other and more compelling reasons to threaten secession.  Tamil Nadu probably has the best case for secession and this is why successive Indian governments have consistently shifted the address of Tamil nationalism from its traditional homeland to the absolutely-no-case place off the Southern tip of India, namely Sri Lanka. 

The sentencing of the three persons mentioned above has upset pro-LTTE groups. All three were members of the terrorist outfit and therefore this is to be expected.  Some object because they are against capital punishment. In Sri Lanka there’s been a deafening silence. The LTTE-loving TNA and other groups with eyes so ready to tear on account of debacles suffered by the terrorists have all kept their silence. How about the rest of us? What are we supposed to think?

Rajiv Gandhi

Rajiv Gandhi was no friend of Sri Lanka.  He wanted to ‘Bhutanize’ us.  He bulldozed into Sri Lanka to save the terrorists who his mother funded, armed and trained.  The LTTE did more than bite the hand that fed it, sure, but that’s not something that those who suffered at the hands of the LTTE would find cause to be sad about. 

When Rajiv Gandhi arrived in Sri Lanka on July 29, 1987 to ink the ‘agreement’ he had arm-twisted J.R. Jayewardene to sign (‘Can’t do uncle!’ was his dismissal of the Sri Lankan President’s plea to let Sri Lanka handle her own affairs), a Naval Rating, Vijithamuni Rohana De Silva, part of the ‘Guard of Honour’, lifted his rifle and brought it down on the Indian Prime Minister’s head. I remember that day. I was  trying to get from Gampola to Kurunegala after receiving a call from my mother, saying her father was seriously ill, but had got trapped in Kandy because a citizenry livid and frustrated at how Indian hegemony walked in and robbed our sovereignty, bailed out a terrorist and gave legitimacy to Eelam myth-making (Dayan Jayatillake called it ‘Geo-political realities’ then) had attacked and burnt some buses. I was forced to stay with friends and we watched the news.  We saw that attack.  We all felt sorry for Rajiv and at the same time empathized with his attacker. 

The three sentenced to be hanged, one can argue, did what Vijithamuni Rohana could not do that day.  If we can empathize with one, we can empathize with the other and that does not make either ‘right’.  Perhaps this is why Sri Lanka has been silent about the sentence.  We never cared much for the Nehrus (not for Rajiv, his mother or her father, the last having the gumption to complain that Sir John had not shown him the speech he delivered at the Bandung Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement) and also have very little patience or pity for terrorists. 

Still, if we can forgive V. Muralitharan aka ‘Karuna’, if we can forgive Prabhakaran’s notorious global arms procurement chief, ‘KP’, if we could have send food, medicine and other essential items to the people held hostage by the LTTE knowing very well that Prabhakaran’s thugs would rob left and right, if we could pay salaries to doctors, nurses, teachers, clerks and others in the Vanni and thereby allow Prabhakaran to claim he was running a de facto state, then we can and should forgive these three Gandhi-killers.

These three have erred.  Yes, there are erring degrees and their crime is pretty much up there among the most horrendous. Worse was done by their victim and his successors.  All that is irrelevant. They have not harmed anyone since they were arrested. They cannot harm anyone if they spent the rest of their lives in jail. Society needs to be protected from such people and if the containing facilities exist, then they should be used.

Nalini serving a life sentence at
Tamila Nadu Jail for her
part in the Gandhi assassination
It is 20 years since Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated (did someone say ‘got his just desserts’?).  A lot has happened since.  ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,’ Mahatma Gandhi once said. I’ve argued against capital punishment elsewhere and will not get into that discussion here.  If, as Vaiko claims, the hanging of these three individuals provokes a full blown secessionist struggle in Tamil Nadu, I will not stop cheering.   That’s not reason enough to want them hanged, though. 

The world would not become any safer or more dangerous the day after if they were executed.  Rajiv Gandhi will not be resurrected.  If India doesn’t know how to deal with them, send them over here, that’s what I say.

A lot of blood has been shed.  A lot of anger has been expressed.  A long time has passed.  There is a time to be wary, and a time to drop guard.  If India is scared about what these three individuals would do, then India can repatriate them back to Sri Lanka. 

I am not sure what their nationality is, but if they were LTTE cadres and were Indians, then they can be extradited to Sri Lanka.  We have rehabilitated and reintegrated into society close to 8000 ex-combatants, some trained to carry out suicide attacks, some trained to toss grenades and spray bullets on civilian cadres.  We can handle these three prisoners.  Not because we condone what they did, but because we know that more deaths will not change things and because we know that this is healing time and execution is not unguent. 

Courtesy: Daily News - Monday 5 September, 2011